This past summer, Georgia filmmaker James Ponsoldt helmed his third feature, an adaption of the popular young adult novel "The Spectacular Now" by Tim Tharp. This is the first feature that Ponsoldt didn't write himself (the script was written by 500 Days of Summer scribes Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber). It's also the first film he shot in his adopted hometown of Athens, Ga.
He took some time to answer some questions about the experience of shooting in Georgia, and share his thoughts on representations of the South on screen.
Whereas Southern literature is defined by William Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, Eudora Welty, or Flannery O'Connor, is there such a thing as "Southern" cinema?
When I was younger I very much wanted to be a "Southern" filmmaker, and I'm definitely obsessed with regional cinema, but I think in this day and age it's tougher to be defined by region. Trends in music and film don't seem to be confined by locale. With the Internet, a kid in rural Georgia can listen to music from Mali and get into African polyrhythms, etc. Conversely, a kid across the world can watch YouTube clip of the Drive-By Truckers performing at the 40 Watt Club.
Information is fairly democratic.
That being said, I think people like John Sayles, Victor Nunez, David Gordon Green, and Julie Dash made some pretty iconic "Southern" films. There's some amazing documentaries I think really capture the spirit of the South - films like Benjamin Smoke, Southern Comfort, and Sherman's March. But ironically, one of my absolute favorite films that's set in the South - The Southerner - was made by a Frenchman (Jean Renoir). Is it any less "Southern" because the director is European? I don't know. Regionalism is a funny thing.
My worldview was certainly shaped by growing up in Athens, Ga., but my parents are from northern New Jersey, and they obviously had a profound effect on me. I'm acutely aware of where I grew up - and Athens wasn't a huge city, but it wasn't the boondocks, either. It was - and is - a really cultural, youthful, friendly small city/large town in the deep south. A blue city in a red state, if you will. And I love everything about Athens, Ga.
But my first two features (Off the Black and Smashed) were made in New York state (in towns along the Hudson River) and Los Angeles, respectively. And while The Spectacular Now was filmed 100 percent in Athens, and I think it feels very authentic to the experience of being a teenager growing up there, I believe the film transcends regionalism.
The novel from which it is adapted is set in the Midwest. Why was it important for you to shoot The Spectacular Now in Georgia?
The script didn't identify where it was set - the setting just wasn't a big city. It felt vaguely suburban - or kind of like a college town. Teenagers having keg parties in fields and things like that (which is something we did in high school). It seemed to me that the script had a sense of place in the way that Breaking Away did.
Anyway, Athens was such an obvious candidate as a setting to shoot the film in - and it was really the only place I wanted to make the film.
Filming in Athens was incredibly meaningful to me. We shot in the streets and houses of my childhood! I was fortunate that the producers were so supportive.
How important was the tax credit in your decision to shoot in Georgia? In what other ways did you benefit from Georgia's thriving industry?
The tax incentive was huge for us - we couldn't have afforded to shoot in Georgia if there wasn't an incentive. But filming in Athens was so easy and fun. Our production office was R.E.M.'s former office (there were quite a few R.E.M. obsessives - myself included - in the crew, so that was cool for us). And the town was so welcoming and supportive, which makes perfect sense: For my entire lifetime, Athens has been a town where people can come and make music and art in a really supportive community. Our crew included a few people from Los Angeles, but also a ton of talented folks based in Atlanta as well as an amazing group of P.A.'s and interns from UGA. Also, Cine Athens was so kind to us - they let my DP and me watch reference films on the big screen. And the local Athens restaurants came to know so many of the people in our cast and crew. You couldn't have asked for a more welcoming experience. (Note: I work as the Executive Director at Ciné, and didn't pay James to say nice things about the theatre.)
In addition to your homecoming, Kyle Chandler, one of the stars of the film, attended UGA in Athens. What was his reaction to being back in Athens?
He loved it. And I imagine it was a bit surreal for him. He'd even attended high school in Georgia. But he really is a good old boy, and he blended in perfectly.
Now that you live in L.A., is Thomas Wolfe right? Or can you go home again?
It's easy - if you're from a town like Athens. It's just one of the most friendly and supportive and unpretentious places I know. It's my favorite town anywhere. And the day I feel like I can't go home will be a darn sad day.
This is your third Sundance film, but the first as "just" the director. How were your expectations different this time around? Does it get easier with each visit, or are the stakes higher with each return to Park City?
I kind of know what to expect at the festival, but the nervous anticipation of how people will react to the film is always there. Other people's reactions are beyond your control, so you try not to get too stressed out. Easier said than done, of course.
At Sundance, I really just try to spend as much time as possible with my cast and crew (because in many ways it's a reunion, especially if you shot six months earlier), and watching as many films as possible.
This was a really great Sundance. There were so many great films, and the reception to The Spectacular Now was really kind.
I feel really lucky.
'Spectacular Now' leads Miles Teller & Shailene Woodley won Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Awards Ceremony, and the film was picked up by "upstart" distributor A24 films for "seven figures." Look for it to hit screens later this year.
Hey "Here's Your Editorial", what does Dale Earnhardt Junior have to do with this article?
I would bet Don Balfour chews with his mouth open and sweats profusely the entire…
Paying to have dinner with Bubba McDonald... ugh, just ugh. The only thing that could…
Since my state rep is Tyrone Brooks, can one cross district borders and sign Mr…
For further context, @tater.salad, this post was specifically about the hip-hop influenced visual arts scene…